Unlikely Companions: The Extraordinary Friendship Between a Giant Tiger and His Brave Keeper

In a remarkable display of warmth, Shosho, a Siberian tiger, springs up to nab a box of his most-liked cereal from his caretaker, Ashley Gombert.

Weighing 40 stone and measuring a towering eight-foot when on his back legs, Shosho shares a unique bond with Ashley, featuring mutual kisses, cuddles, and even shared swims in a nearby creek adjacent to Shosho’s residence at Seaview Lion Park near Port Elizabeth.

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Paw show: Shosho, the Siberian tiger, tries to swat a box of a certain cereal from keeper Ashley Gombert as the pair play together at the Seaview Lion Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Ashley, a 35-year-old towering over six-foot himself and hailing from Port Elizabeth, is humbly overshadowed by the colossal feline.

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Identifying himself as a tiger wrangler, Ashley acknowledges the physical challenge of being around such an enormous creature.

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Fur play: Ashley shares another cuddle with Shosho

“Shosho is a gentle giant. He has an amiable demeanor, and you can easily interact with him.

Despite his calmness and enjoyment of human touch, we must never forget that he has the potential to be a lethal predator,” Ashley said.

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Shosho plays a crucial role in a Siberian tiger breeding program aimed at expanding the genetic diversity of this endangered species for zoos worldwide.

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Pals: Siberian tigers like Shosho are under threat, with only 360 believed to be living in the wilds of eastern Russia

The wild population of Siberian tigers in Eastern Russia is alarmingly estimated at only 360.

The staff at Seaview Lion Park strive to interact extensively with these giant cats. This frequent interaction enables easier management than with creatures in captivity unaccustomed to human contact.

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Ashley’s close bond with Shosho has beneficial practical implications, too. Shosho willingly sits through medical checks or vaccinations, avoiding the need for sedation, which Ashley notes is healthier and makes Shosho more content in captivity.

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Give us a kiss: Keeper Ashley shares a tender moment with Shosho
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Training: Staff at the park make sure they interact as much as the giant cats will allow – which means that they can be managed more easily than in captivity creatures unused to human contact

“We received these tigers from Johannesburg Zoo when they ran out of space. Now, they’re part of our breeding program.

Our goal is to breed these endangered tigers to enhance their species’ genetic pool,” said Ashley.

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Ashley shares that his interactions with Shosho aren’t just medical. They include walks for exercise, grooming sessions, and even playful jumping and hugging moments.

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Cereal killer: Big Shosho takes a sniff at the breakfast favorite
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Big softie: Although Ashley plays with Shosho as if he were a family pet, he is always aware that the lethal killer could have him for breakfast at any time

“Shosho communicates his feelings by giving me a hug and a kiss and occasionally playfully pounces on me.

Regular human interaction keeps Shosho both physically healthier and mentally happier, making him feel more comfortable in his captive environment,” Ashley concluded.

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Shosho is part of a Siberian tiger breeding program that aims to increase the genetic stock of these endangered cats available to zoos worldwide.
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